Jim Siergey: How Lucky Can One Man Get?

January 12th, 2021

I have long believed that when I reached the dementia part of my existence that no one would notice. Thus I will escape the nursing home for longer than I should before people catch on. If I have played my cards right they will never catch on.

See? A lifetime of spewing non-sequiturs, uttering tangential thoughts and engaging in spasmodic verbalizations may, in the long run, work out for me.

No one will be able to tell if I am expressing demented nonsense or just my usual nonsense.

Hmmm, did I write “will be able”?

I, myself, am not sure whether I am not already trodding the boards on the demential stage of life. In my never-ending pursuit of fretful thought, I do sometimes wonder.

My ability to remember names and places, even memories themselves, has been affected. This happens to most people that hang around long enough. It’s one reason why it’s good to fraternize with people your own age. Sometimes the only way to finish a sentence is with the assistance of others.

It indeed takes a village.

Words that used to flow from my lips like water from a downspout in a rain storm now tend to get clogged while en route. My pauses are getting as long as a row of handicapped parking spaces. Sometimes what I am going to say is fully formed and sitting expectantly on the tip of my tongue and yet in the instant I begin to speak melts on that afore-mentioned lingual platform like chocolate in a sauna.

Mmmmm, chocolate.

whiteheatsiergey

I believe the movie was White Heat…

 

Recently, it took me two days to remember the name of the Jimmy Cagney movie where he shouts “Made it, Ma! Top of the World!” I took a lot of heat from myself for forgetting that.

Sometimes my speechifying has succumbed to pantomiming as I say “The thing that does this.” or unable to think of the word, describing it, i.e. “That object on the wall with numbers that tells you the time.” Fortunately, as I sit here typing, I can pause as long as I need while trying to remember a particular word without anyone smacking me in the shoulder saying “Come ON already!”

Sheesh, what a bunch of grouches.

Yet, sometimes my vernacular is very vivid. Adjectives, verbs, monikers, movie and book titles, people, places and things all come tumbling out of my mouth with the exquisite timing of circus acrobats. Those days don’t happen very often so I appreciate them when they do, although they mostly occur when I’m talking to myself.

Today I was driving home from a neighborhood Middle Eastern restaurant with a couple of Shawarma sandwiches for lunch. I had the radio on and a John Prine song came on that I never heard before or maybe just didn’t remember hearing. In either case, it immediately altered my angst over memory loss. Here’s the opening verse…

“Today I walked down the street I used to wander
Yeah, shook my hand and made myself a bet
There was all these things that I don’t think I remember
Hey, how lucky can one man get?”

Okay, maybe he was singing about a different kind of memory loss but I reconstructed and bent it so it related to me. (Isn’t that what one is supposed to do about everything?)

Now I feel a bit better about whatever the hell it was I was talking about. So, thanks again, John.

How lucky can one man get?

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was The New Odd Couple

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Jim Siergey: The New Odd Couple

January 5th, 2021

I don’t talk about this much but I am a huge fan of Neil Simon. No, not the guy who partnered with Art Garfunkel nor the jazzy songstress (that’s Nina Simone) but the highly successful playwright of classic comedies like, f’r instance, The Odd Couple.

Over the years I have gathered much of Mr. Simon’s original notes, roughs and drafts of his many plays and ideas for plays. I have spent a lot of time and money gathering all this material and have spent a good deal of this Covid isolation going through it and I recently came across some notes that are very interesting and in fact, quite prescient.

Apparently, his original idea for The Odd Couple was very different from how it ended up. I imagine his idea was too far-fetched for even Broadway to accept. If you will take a firm grip of your seats I will reveal it to you.

His concept was that a newly elected President (Alan Alda was his written-in-the-margins choice) moved into the White House only to find that the previous occupant had not moved out! (Beyond comprehension, isn’t it?)

halzsasiergeyHale to the chief…

 

The previous president (Alan Hale Jr. was the name penciled in the margins) was a big loser in the election. Being a bit of a dim bulb, this descent into reality confused him. He had assumed that the presidency would be a lifetime appointment so he had sold off his home in Florida and now had no place else to go.

Attempting to physically remove him proved to be such a spectacle, what with all the kicking and screaming and wailing, that President Alda, a sympathetic fellow, decided to just let him be as long as he stayed out of the way.

So ex-Prez Hale was allowed to hang around like a walking, talking millstone.

One can imagine the comedy potential between the bumbling and befuddled ex-Prez (“Guess I shouldn’t a-done that, huh?” was his catch phrase) and the nose-to-the grindstone, covering-all-the-bases new Prez.

Adding to this farcical fantasy was the ex-Prez’s foreign-born wife (penciled-in Zsa Zsa Gabor) who was also part of the deal. The interplay between her and the new Prez’s wife, an east coast high powered attorney (Gena Rowlands?) was very Green Acres-ish.

But, pressured by outside sources that began to accuse Mr. Simon of sedition, treason and plain old un-Americanism, this concept was dumped and The Odd Couple version that we now know and love came to life.

It’s likely that at the time Simon’s original Odd Couple concept would have been a flop. Ironically, all these years later, a life-imitating-art (that was never produced) situation has become a big hit…with part of the country.

It is highly unlikely that this current production will have much of a run beyond the twentieth of January (fingers crossed) but word on the street has it that Donald Trump is up for a Tony.

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Passing

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Jim Siergey: Passing

December 27th, 2020

People celebrate birthdays in different ways. The young in their foolish pursuit of adulthood celebrate becoming a year older. The old “celebrate” making it through another year.

Not I.

Being the sensitive altruistic person that I am, caring not only for the welfare of people but also animals, vegetables and minerals, I tend to have a different take on those celebrated occasions.

There is more to a birthday than the gaining of a year.  There is also the loss of a year. Those 365 days tend to get tossed aside like a used Kleenex. The New is what it’s all about, the Past is the past.

But, what of that Past? Did one not grow and learn? Did it not fill one’s life with situations, adventures and feelings that one may never experience again? Does it not merit at least some of the attention that is spent upon the onset of a new year?

That is where I come in.

In the spirit of the sin-eaters of old I step forth and volunteer to mourn the passing of that past year. This is why I am always clad in black on my birthday or to any birthday parties to which I am still invited. It is a small gesture but it is my way of giving the past a dignified farewell even during the festivities of a party.

(I guess I’m hardwired to think that way because I was a breech birth.)

We now find ourselves at the threshold of a new year. Normally I treat the occurrence of such in the same manner I do a birthday. But, to quote a line from a Bob Dylan song, “I used to care but things have changed.”

I am NOT going to mourn the passing of 2020. Not a shred of black will I wear. I will attire myself in every different color I can find. I will be dappled. I will be mottled. I will be American Pied!

Good bye and good riddance, 2020. You were a year that felt like you would never end despite also feeling like you were barely there.  Your numerical title indicated perfect vision. It finally came into play toward the end of your run with the legal ouster of a deranged president but even that event needed prescription lenses.  Or just a prescription.

My hopes for the new year are not carefree and fanciful. I just hope that 2021 can be at least 1 better than 2020. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Best wishes to us all.

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was The Year That Wasn’t

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Jim Siergey: The Year That Wasn’t

December 14th, 2020

2020–The Year that Wasn’t or The Year We Wish Wasn’t. It was a year where everything seemed to come to a halt despite lots of stuff happening. To paraphrase Yakov Smirnoff, “What a dichotomy.”

Due to a deadly virus that ran and is running rampant throughout the world but especially in the United States many simple things that involved the gathering of people could not take place. So, it’s nix to birthdays, weddings, funerals, even visits to hospitals to spend the final hours with a dying loved one.

Tolls were taken on schooling and going to restaurants, concerts, office meetings or even the office itself as businesses crumbled and the economy nosedived. Rents and mortgages couldn’t be paid, food lines went on for miles and, well, you know the story. You were there too.

Yep, gathering en masse to celebrate birthdays, graduations, religious rites of passage and anniversaries are all musts to avoid. The last one is where my wife and I come in.

December 19th (or, if you’re into natal trivia,the birth date of burglar and playwright Jean Genet) will mark our wedding anniversary. Normally it’s no big deal, except to us, but this one is the Big Five-Oh.

Yep, Cindy and I will be married for (gasp) fifty years. Normally that would be cause for a celebration but these ain’t normal times, are they?

Even if it was normal times, we’re not the types to have a big shindig but we’d do something i.e. take a trip somewhere or get together with a gathering of close friends or just the two of us dining at a fancy restaurant.  But that’s not in the cards this year. However this pair of Jokers do have a deal planned.

Before I reveal it, indulge me, if you will, in setting the WABAC Machine to 1970…

abbottcostelloA & C = Romance…

 

Cindy and I were wed on the cusp of adulthood at City Hall in Chicago and the “reception” took place at our apartment that we had moved into the day before (the bedroom was piled with boxes). My mother, grandmother and siblings were there as well as Cindy’s parents and brother. A couple of aunts were sprinkled in there too as well as some friends (who had accompanied us to City Hall—thirteen of us packed into a tiny room).

We dined on a chocolate wedding cake that was even tiered with a little bride and groom atop.

The elders departed in the late afternoon and after that more friends came by. It turned into a long night. In fact, several people never left. It was discovered that The Late Late Show was airing Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and everyone that was still conscious wanted to watch it.

Our TV was an old tube-filled Admiral from the 1950’s, a four legged oak cabinet that looked like a piece of furniture. No matter how much I adjusted the horizontal and vertical knobs the reception was terrible but if I layed on the floor and kept my foot on the side of the TV, the picture was viewable. So that was where I spent my wedding night. Cindy had earlier climbed over the boxes and gone to bed.

I relate all this only so you will understand how we plan to spend our 50th anniversary.

Somewhere in the wide world of streaming movies we should be able to find Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein but this time I will view it with both feet up and from the comfort of a couch. If Cindy falls asleep during it, our individual pseudo-re-enactment will be complete.

The merry-go-round goes round and round.

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Zoomed

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Jim Siergey: Zoomed

November 24th, 2020

I recently had my first Zoom experience and I was overwhelmed.

A friend had organized a group Zoom gathering at noon on a Sunday in celebration of her daughter’s first birthday. My wife has been involved in some Zoom meetings so she easily set it up and when it was a little after noon she summoned me to the dining room where our iPad was set up.

She was seated on a chair centering her in the middle of her little portion of a screen so I had to kneel down on the floor next to her and lean in to stick my head into the frame to prove my attendance. It was then that I looked at the rest of the screen.

It was filled with numerous little boxes and each box was filled with people and some of those people were accompanied by children and or pets. Along with those people, children and pets were the rooms they were sitting in that were filled with things that rooms are filled with. There were colors and shapes galore.

Each box was like a frame from a Terry Gilliam movie.

There was way too much stuff to look at, way too much stuff times nine or twelve. I don’t know how many tiny boxes there were but there were at least that many. On top of that, people spoke and I didn’t know who was speaking or where to look and there were the children and the pets. Everything was moving. I began to get freaked out.

It was turning into Hollywood Squares on acid.

Years ago, on a whim as we were driving up to Wisconsin, my wife and I decided to stop off at Gurnee Mills, a mega-mall in northern Illinois, just to see what it was all about. We parked in the massive lot, trudged to the doors, opened them and stepped in.

The sight inside, a mega-multitude of stores and people, was sensory overload. We quickly turned tail and left, never to return again.

This Zoom conference call reminded me of that episode.

Like at Gurnee Mills, I had to bail from the Zoom call. I did hang around for a minute, maybe two, so I’ll accept whatever credit can be handed out for that bit of sustainability.

I had broken into a cold sweat and hives began to appear on my skin. My legs were wobbly and my vision blurred. I had to take a swig of Old Forester to settle my nerves.

Mega-malls and Zoom.  I’ll stick to email, thank you. Where’s my buggy whip?

—End session—

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Cosmic Book Club

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Jim Siergey: Cosmic Book Club

November 17th, 2020

It’s not tattered or torn (much) but it is certainly worn. Worn through having been read a number of times.

It is a paperback book that I happened to select from my bookshelf on a day where it happened to be the birthday of the person who wrote it and that person happened to be Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

The date?  November 11. Yes, Veteran’s Day. And Kurt Vonnegut’s birthday.  Two unforgettable events that happened to happen on the same date.

I first came upon the writings of Kurt Vonnegut during the cusp of nineteen sixty nine and seventy, give a take a year or two. I read a collection of short stories, “Welcome to the Monkey House” followed by the novel “God Bless You, Mister Rosewater” and I was hooked.

I have read nearly everything he has published and there’s a story behind several of them, mostly of the coincidental kind.

One such time took place when I worked as a gilder at the Lyon & Healy harp shop. During breaks, I was reading “Jailbird”, a Vonnegut novel that at the time I was reading it was taking place at a company called The American Harp Company.

The location of the fictional American Harp Company was in Chicago which was where the Lyon & Healy harp company and I were. The descriptions of the layout as well as the ins and outs of The American Harp Company very eerily replicated those of Lyon & Healy.  I found myself reading a sequence in a book that was taking place in a place that I was currently in!

It wasn’t a trite coincidental place such as some country or town but, of all things, a harp shop! To me, it was another example of being part of the karass.

 

Kurtvonsiergey

It’s never too late to read Mr. V…

 

A karass, according to Vonnegut, is a group of people linked in a cosmically significant manner, even when superficial linkages are not evident.   Yeah, that’s right, it’s cosmic and cosmic, like jazz, can’t be explained.

So, was it cosmic that I plucked from my bookcase a book written by a favorite writer of mine whose birthday it happened to be? Cosmic is as cosmic does.

Now, this particular book is one of two, as far as I know, Vonnegut books that I have never read. What book is it, you may wonder?

It is “Player Piano” which was his first novel.  The book is a slightly yellowed edition that was first published in 1952.  This edition was printed in 1967. Atop the cover which features an illustration of a piano roll but the piano roll is a man, is a small round sticker that has $1.00 written on it in ballpoint pen.  This second hand purchasing price was only a nickel more than the original price.

I don’t remember how it came into my possession but I have had it for years.  The story is set in Ilium, New York and begins with a heavy business sense and since I have no scent for business, I quickly gave up each time I began.

I can be a bit persnickety about the milieus I wade into.

I decided to take another crack at it and have gone further than I have before, which really wasn’t more than the sticking of a toe in the offset waters, and from having done so I see that it is, as I should have imagined, about more than mere business. It is turning into another wonderful Vonnegut book.

It appears that I was not meant to read it until this point in time. In fact, the last line I read before embarking upon this essay was “he had gone directly from a three-hour television program to the White House.”

The cosmos works in mysterious ways, eh wot?

Hi Ho.

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Happy The Hard Way

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Jim Siergey: Happy The Hard Way

November 11th, 2020

Like the dour-faced cartoon dog, Droopy, I also say in a muffled jowly way, “You know what? I’m happy.”

It’s hard to tell but I am happy. Joe Biden has been elected president but only by the skin of his gleaming snow white teeth. That close victory is the only reason I am not as jubilant as a kid on Christmas morning. How in the name of all that is sensible could the election have been that close?

How could a racist, misogynistic, callously cruel, self-serving incendiary liar who, through sheer ineptness and indifference, allowed a pandemic to continue to sweep across the nation causing 240,000 Americans to die collect 71 million votes? If anything should be in the top tier of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, that is it.

It is a huge relief that we have a rational human being stepping into the Oval Office but if half the country is agin him and if the fine people of Georgia don’t come through he will face a recalcitrant Senate which will do its best to impede any intended improvement in American lives.

So, yeah, I’m happy but I’m not gleeful.  Paranoia and dread are still my top two emotions. There are 70some days for the desperate Trump and his minions  to try and pull something and despite the long odds I don’t put nothin’ past ‘em.

droopydogsiergey

The Droopster…

 

Perhaps truth, justice and the American way will win out. Maybe people will come to their senses and realize sliding backwards is not a forward-thinking plan and we will proceed with the steps that were already being taken for acceptance and inclusion of all Americans by all Americans.

We will see.

I’ve recently been reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.  It is a sad story but, my gosh, what a wonderful writer she is! Her writing reminds me of F.Scott Fitzgerald’s. The kind of writing that makes you stop now and then to take a breath and say “Whew! That was one beautiful sentence.”

From reading Ms. Plath’s words I have begun to think that, in a way, we (or at least some of we) have been living under a bell jar for the last four years, stewing in the sour air, “blank and stopped as a dead baby” where “the world itself is a bad dream.”

I hope we are waking from that bad dream. The rooster has yet to crow, the fat lady has yet to sing and there is still time for Trump to do more damage to our democracy and psyche but I have to believe that a new day is coming. In fact, it’s rounding the corner.

You know what? That makes me happy.

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Sour Puss

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